**This post was authored by Elizabeth Queen, an intern with the Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project
Today’s “walk in” highlights the recent hits to North Carolina’s public education system, from funneling desperately needed public school funding into private school vouchers to failing to adequately compensate teachers for their hard work to educate our children. We support our public school teachers today, and are also spending this entire week spotlighting the programs that serve our youngest state residents and their families.
North Carolina has had one of the best pre-k programs in the country for years. However, despite national praise for this high-quality, cost-effective program (which, by the way, North Carolina is required by court order to provide to all at-risk 4-year-olds as part of these at-risk children’s constitutional right to a sound basic education ), the General Assembly has tried to limit access to this vital foundation for lifelong learning through cuts in the number of pre-k slots available and a proposed shift in the definition of “at-risk” that would allow the State to exclude some of NC’s most vulnerable kids from services. Without the essential building block of pre-k, children are far more likely to experience obstacles throughout the rest of their education and even into adulthood. And taxpayers are far more likely to pay the price for special education, involvement with the criminal justice system, and assistance from welfare programs for children who do not receive early childhood education.
But North Carolina’s early education programs are not the only family-supporting programs that are underfunded. Read more
Last Thursday, in the wake of the federal shutdown, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced that county social service officials would resume processing TANF applications and that child care subsidy funds would be restored. But it’s still worth asking why North Carolina appeared to be the only state to fail to extend services with state dollars while expecting likely reimbursement from the federal government.
Prior to the end of the shutdown, Durham County was one of 34 counties that notified DHHS of plans to suspend or of already having suspended child care subsidies.
It’s also important to note that prior to the shutdown, prior to sequestration, and prior to the failure of Congress to reauthorize the TANF and CCDBG block grants that in large part fund state child care subsidies, over 34,000 children in North Carolina were on a waiting list for subsidized quality care.
Thousands of North Carolina families, a new NC Justice Center brief states, have been waiting for quality, affordable child care long before the federal shut down. Child care is the largest cost in many families’ monthly budget, Read more
Poverty continues to impact 1 in 5 North Carolinians, according to 2012 Census Bureau Data released last week. The extent of poverty would be far greater without the safety net and work supports, however. This post is part of a blog series that will explain how the new poverty data demonstrates the important role public programs play and the need for continued support. Read the other posts in this series on SNAP, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and the EITC.
Work First, North Carolina’s TANF program, was created to assist extremely low-income families in becoming economically self-sufficient through basic services, a small cash grant, and short-term training. But despite soaring unemployment rates and persistently high poverty levels in the state, the Work First case load has been declining in North Carolina.
In good economic times, a declining TANF caseload could indicate greater economic well-being. That is, fewer cases could indicate fewer families are in deep poverty and therefore ineligible for or not enrolled in a program like TANF-Work First. But with unemployment rates hovering just under 9 percent and one in five North Carolinians living in poverty, declining TANF-Work First caseloads point to the program’s limited role in building economic security.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created by Congress in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent children and “end welfare as we know it.” Those eligible for Work First are still very much in need of assistance. Families must earn less than 19.6 percent to 37.8 percent of the federal poverty level, depending on family size, in order to be eligible. Read more
Labor day – a holiday created by the labor movement and dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers – provided little reason for North Carolina workers to celebrate this year. The State of Working North Carolina, an annual report assessing how workers in the state are faring, shows what many North Carolina workers already know: unemployment continues to plague the state and many workers – despite working full time – are just not getting by.
Nearly 1 in 4 workers in the state are in occupations that pay less than $22,811 – the 2011 poverty threshold for a family of four. Roughly half a million workers in North Carolina are supporting themselves, and often their families, on the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
The minimum wage has received some long-overdue attention as of late with increasing attention to growing income inequality and national proposals based on the premise that those who work full time should not be living in poverty. Pre-labor day protests all across the country, and in North Carolina, highlighted the extreme disparity between workers struggling to make ends meet with soaring corporate profits in one of the few industries growing in the state. Read more
On June 30th, over 70,000 long-term unemployed workers were abruptly cut off from their unemployment benefits and North Carolina became the only state to lose out on 100% federally-funded emergency benefits.
This “unemployment cliff” was created due to the June 30th implementation date of massive and unprecedented cuts to the state-funded unemployment benefits. These cuts ran afoul of federal rules for emergency benefits, which require that states maintain existing benefit levels as long as the emergency federal benefits are available. States that flout these rules are no longer eligible for the federally-funded benefits.
And so, on June 30th, 70,000 jobless workers in North Carolina lost the benefits on which they relied to pay their bills and feed their families. Another 100,000 or so will not receive the emergency benefits the federal government has offered through the end of the year.
There is a rumor floating about that there is no point in further discussing the effective date of the UI benefit cuts since HB4 has been passed and signed by the governor. In truth, there is still time for the legislature to act. Read more